Forging a nation and a state out of disparate communities has always been a hard-won feat. But here in America we met the challenge and built our nation on ideal and practical values. Among them is our commitment, diverse as we are, to be, in principle and substance, responsible for ourselves and accountable to others for being trustworthy.
Indeed, over the course of its 228 year constitutional history, its citizens exemplifying the principles of responsibility, accountability and trustworthiness, America has won preeminent status among nations. It is recognized for the breadth and depth of its might, of course. But it is also recognized among ordinary people here and throughout the world that we citizens, if so motivated and not marginalized by discrimination, may enjoy the freedom to engage in the pragmatic endeavor to craft a life of our own design.
Yet, as I said, the political infrastructure has always been complex and perhaps never more so than now. Yes, we agree in principle that each and every American must shoulder the burdens of responsibility, accountability and trustworthiness. But how are these principles upheld when it comes to conservative, liberal or progressive values?
National spokespeople for these positions would have us believe their positions’ values reflect large and external absolutes about what is right and moral. But, in fact, human beings’ values are based on resolving the conflict between their socially acquired points of view and their unmediated desires and fears. Forging a nation and a state out of disparate communities is hard because we are determined by nature and nurture to defend the positions we’re bred to.
America is great when we recognize just how much common decency we share despite our deeply entrenched and often oppositional positions. For example, as I said, each of us knows that we must be responsible and trustworthy. None of us would betray these principles in front of our neighbors, our children, our parents or those in our communities who depend on our accountability.
America is great when we make our claims for what is valuable by staking them in this common ground of accountability, when we meet the customary standards for cognition, communication and behavior, when we meet the requirement to defend or account for ourselves with reason, rationality, objectivity and evidence and when we meet our commitment to be decent as a way of life.
And when we don’t, when we forget that all of life is an endless series of problems that require solutions, when we compromise the integrity of the process that America has historically demanded of its citizens, we undermine the very foundation (and freedom) upon which this country was built.
Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes. Visit autonomyandlife.com for more information.